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September 2014
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November 2014

The hope of empty arms

I know I've told the story before, of how Tre was born and everything changed. Bear with me, please, because those days are on my mind right now.

I was barely more than a child myself, really, and I knew I wasn't ready to be a mom. I cried every single day of that pregnancy. Well, every single day from 10 weeks on, when I finally relented and woke up long enough to take a test. I bounced the rent check the week before I found out I was pregnant. I was newly married, and we had no health insurance. 

What was more, I had all sorts of plans. Two year plans, five year plans, ten year plans. A baby didn't fit in there for a minimum of six years. I knew what I was supposed to be doing. I think that's the main reason I cried. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, and it was all upended. 

But he was there. He was just plain there, and there was (as my grandmother used to say) no way around it but through it. The morning of his birth, I hauled myself to the hospital with more of a sense of duty than breathless anticipation.

But when they handed him to me...oh, that moment. I was forever changed, from a girl with a fistful of plans, into a woman with a life's purpose. My arms were full of the most delicious being I'd ever seen, and I knew why I was born.

A mom. I am a mom.

For nineteen years I've answered the dreaded "what do you do" question just like that. I'm a mom. Sometimes I mention the homeschooling, but mostly I'm a mom. Not just a mom, either, but a mom.

Last week I was standing by the playground after picking up Sophia from school. I'd promised her she could stay and play, so there I was, chatting with two other moms. The talk turned to work. One of them works I'm not entirely sure. But she mostly works from home, on conference calls, which sounds like a horrifying kind of hell to me. All meetings, no coworkers to vent to? I can't even imagine. She says it's worth it, because she hardly ever has to wear business clothes. The other one does medical billing, also from home. I listened, genuinely fascinated, because people's stories about how they ended up in their line of work are really amazing. Almost no one says, "Well, I went to college, and my major prepared me to do this, and that's what I've done ever since." Off the top of my head, I can only think of one person. Anyhow.

Eventually, the question swung my direction, what do I do? And for the first time in nearly two decades, I faltered. 

"'ve been homeschooling. This is my last year..."

I AM homeschooling. And that plus driving children to schools should be enough. IS enough, for me. But for the first time in this whole lifetime of being a mom, I didn't feel like enough. 

The truth is that the very best parts of my job, as a mom, are being outsourced. Teaching and exploring and talking for hours. These things are being handed over to teachers and friends. As it should be. But even though my days are impossibly full, increasingly my arms are empty. 

I've been debating about including this aspect of it, because it feels a little naked to me, but it is the truth, so here it goes. I wish that my childbearing years hadn't been ended by miscarriage. As I move out of everything I've known, as a mom and a homeschooler, I am dogged by a feeling that I've failed at the one thing I was ever any good at. The one thing that really mattered. That my baby would be alive if I'd done it right. I know that's not true, but knowing it doesn't erase the feeling of it. Also, whether it's hormones or grief, the loss of an unborn baby has left me with an indelible feeling in my arms of longing for a tiny body I should be holding. My arms are not only metaphorically empty, but literally. It aches.

I think it's possible that I haven't really grown up that much since I was a crying knocked-up 23 year old. I find myself again with everything I thought I knew I was supposed to do...over. It leaves me weepy sometimes.

But I also remember that I have been here before. And the last time I was so unmoored, my arms were so beautifully filled. I still do not know what I am supposed to be when I grow up, but through the tears and the fear, I watch in hope of the next astonishing thing. 


One week, three pictures, various levels of success.

This week Max finally got his driver's permit. In case you're wondering, the lateness of the getting of said permit is cruel and unusual punishment, and clearly illuminates the horror and pain of being our child.

Also in case you're wondering, a new driver's permit goes a long way toward overcoming that particular kind of suffering.



Also this week, Raphael went for a different look.


Whenever he walks into the room, I say, "Awww...why so blue?"

That just never stops being funny. Never.


This morning Sophia woke up nearly an hour and a half early. That's 1.5 hours. 90 minutes. As one who is not yet adjusting to the early morning school start as she is, I am a little bitter about this. Anyhow, since she was up early (although still a little groggy, because morning is really not her best time), she decided to get herself all dressed and ready for the day. Usually I present her with her clothes when she finishes her breakfast, because the uniform at her school is sort of complicated and confusing. But this morning she figured it all out (with only a smattering of questions bellowed from her bedroom), and presented herself to me, ALL READY TO GO.


She was just. so. proud. 

Today was such a day.

Oy, today. Today was a day. Sophia had the day off, for Columbus Day, because apparently people still do that? What's worse, on Friday she told me that her teacher mentioned that there was no school on Monday, and I said, "Oh, I think you misunderstood, sweetheart." Then when we were leaving church on Sunday, Father Ed recognized Sophia as a student and said, "Enjoy your day off tomorrow! No school on Monday!" and I took her by the hand and said (like a big ol' lie-y liar), "Yep, that's right! We're sleeping in!" as though I had any inkling at all about it. Then I came home and finally checked the school calendar, and guess what? Heh. 

So I had to punt on my plans for the day, because Tre was going to meet friends for lunch, and I had been expecting all the other kids to be in school (Raphael has homeschool enrichment on Mondays, so those are paaaaartay days, if by "party" you mean frantic running of errands). But it's fine! Fine! I've been missing Sophia fiercely since she started school, so it would be churlish of me to not enjoy an unexpected day for just the two of us, right? Okay, I did pawn her off on Tre for a few hours, so I could get some things done, but that was as much for them as for me.

Anyway, I asked Sophia what would make her day off special, and she said lunch out and a trip to the park would do it, so that's what we did. However, as we pulled up to the park, I got a call. Without going into details that might embarrass anyone unduly, one of my children was facing disciplinary action at school, and needed to be picked up.

Okay, look. I really am not intending to embarrass anyone here, but I'm mentioning it because 1) it's what actually happened today and 2) sometimes I think I present a sanitized picture of my life that looks way more successful than it really is. Sometimes my kids are jerks, and today was one of those days for one of my kids. It's not a crisis, it's just one of those stupid bumps in the road that make you turn to look deep into the eyes of someone you have loved since before they drew their first breath, someone you would cheerfully take a bullet for, someone you adore and admire and hope every good thing for, and say, "WHAT THE HELL? WHAT. THE. HELL." You know. THAT sort of day. 

I was still dealing with this stuff okay, but yeesh. You do not throw a monkey wrench into my day without ducking shrapnel, okay? I have schedules. OVERLAPPING SCHEDULES. I have places I need to be and support people lined up to make things happen and bring children home at the appointed hours. I immediately hopped on the phone to reconfigure...everything. How long could I stay at the park with Sophia for her promised special day at the park? And if Mom picked up the other (not in trouble) child, when could I drop off that check at that child's school, and could Tre keep Sophia so she didn't have to witness me murdering her sibling? And would there be time to start the stew for dinner when I got back from said murder?

As I wandered around the playground, orchestrating The Afternoon 2.0, I walked past a little boy. Unfortunately, I walked past him just as he hauled back and threw a plane as hard as he could. Into the side of my head.

It was just a foam plane, could not have been lighter and still had actual substance. It did not hurt me, but just made a loud noise against my head and startled me, and I jumped and yelled "OUCH" into the ear of whomever I was consulting with at the moment. The little boy looked back at me with huge eyes and said, "I was just trying to throw it back over there," which isn't technically an apology, but as it is with terrified little boys, I'm pretty sure what he meant was, "OH NO, AM I GOING TO JAIL NOW?" I muttered back that it was fine and walked away, but that was the last straw. With one lightweight plane to the side of the head, all my can-do attitude crumbled, and I became convinced that life was terrible and I was clearly a failure at everything, in every way.

Well, now I'm not sure how to end this, because it sure seems like I was building up to some sort of Lesson there, doesn't it? Maybe about grace and mercy or something fine like that? But all that happened was that I dropped off Sophia with my mom, who was treated to a frantic rant about the sins of the wayward child, I drove off to pick up said wayward child, I did not in fact kill him, and after dinner (beef stew over mashed potatoes, which was EXCELLENT, by the way), we all felt better. Tomorrow is already winging its way toward us, and I suppose all will be okay eventually. 

At least I cleared up that pesky "sanitized picture" problem, right?

Home again, home again

On her dresser, beside her bed, Sophia keeps a little plastic pot, the kind you might find lip balm in. What she keeps in it, though, is a piece of chewed gum. Gross, I know, but it's the last thing Tre gave her before we drove away and left him in Arizona. She sobbed for miles, and when we stopped for lunch, she soberly handed me her slimy wad of gum and asked me to find a safe place to keep it, because she was going to save it FOREVER.

And so there it sits, on her dresser, and I know that's weird and wrong, but you know what's really weird and wrong? Having a member of your family peel away and live somewhere else. I know, I know, it's not "wrong," not actually. But it feels strange and lonely and stumbling sometimes, as we all try to figure out how we fit together now, with one of us gone. When Tre had been gone several weeks, we sat down one night to say evening prayers. The kids take their turns in order of age, starting with the oldest, and this night Max sat silent, waiting. Someone nudged him to go ahead, and he looked around, startled. "What? Where is Tre? Why isn't he here? I miss him!"

It was silly, because he'd been gone for weeks, but it was also so baldly true, the startled realization that nothing seemed in the right place somehow, that no one laughed.

This weekend, however, Tre came home. Just for a few days, but we are fizzy with joy over having him here. Sophia WILL NOT get out of his grill. I just now sent Max and Raphael up to their beds, even though they were supposed to be there an hour ago, because I could not bring myself to interrupt the way they hover around him. The comfortable bickering, the physical need to sit next to him and interrupt him as he tries to study. It's all so lovely and familiar and right.

Tuesday he goes home. Mom warned me the other day, that the first few years after your kids leave home, when they come back for a visit, the leaving hurts just as much as the first time. I'm not thinking about that right now.

Right now I'm just soaking it in, the content feeling that I can turn my phone off, all the way off, at night, because everyone is home. Tuesday is coming, but for now, we're all here.


And it's very good.